KOLKATA, India – Activists in the northeastern Indian city of Kolkata held on Sunday an event as part of a campaign seeking to raise awareness of the astronomically-high air pollution levels in the city – which the World Health Organization says has the worst air quality of any metropolis in the world.
Several members of the group Kalkota Clean Air and other local organizations exercised at a park with their faces covered by surgical masks as a way to protest for their right to breathe.
Last Friday, Kolkatans breathed the foulest air of the year, as the city’s monitoring stations recorded a count for the toxic particulate matter PM2.5 that reached more than eight times the admissible limit set by WHO.
A report by the Times of India found that the lung damage derived from these levels of PM2.5 was equivalent to smoking 22 cigarettes a day.
According to an index recently released by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, India is the world’s second-most polluted country, only surpassed by neighboring Nepal.
Air pollution’s devastating effects on public health are exemplified by the fact that residents of India’s capital, New Delhi, are seeing on average a more than 10-year reduction in their life expectancy.
Environmentalists lay the blame for this crisis on an increase in fossil fuel emissions from the rising number of cars used in the cities, especially diesels.
High levels of ambient PM2.5 are estimated to cause 4.2 million deaths per year around the world through lung cancer, respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases and strokes, according to research conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.